Last night, I drove out to Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh to see Sarah Addison Allen on the first stop of her book tour for Lost Lake. I never know what to expect when I see an author in person, and I can get weirdly anxious waiting for the event to start. What if I can’t reconcile the person standing in front of me with the book they have written that I love? I had no cause for alarm with Sarah. The minute she walked into the room, she radiated happiness. She was visibly excited that it was time to share Lost Lake with her readers.
Sarah started out by explaining that this book tour is special to her because she didn’t have a chance to tour for her last book, The Peach Keeper. A few weeks before The Peach Keeper’s release, Sarah was diagnosed with cancer. In just a few weeks, Sarah learned that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, that the doctors had found nodules in her lungs, and that she would have to undergo treatment for stage four cancer – surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. She compared this series of revelations to the feeling of being lost in the woods, in the dark, in the snow, and being chased. But within a year, understandably the most frightening and dark year of her life, Sarah had her first set of clean scans. She has been in remission for two years now, and in that time, she has gone through several drafts of Lost Lake.
Sarah said that she spent all of her treatment trying to get back to “life before cancer,” because that was a good and safe place for her. But when her treatment was over, she realized that her life after cancer is actually better because she has made some changes that she would not have considered before. Then she offered up some thoughts that seem to play a big role in Lost Lake: “What would I say to that old Sarah – the Sarah before cancer? What I would say to her, and what I would say to you is “What are you waiting for? Life is too short. Stop making excuses, because you KNOW what it takes to be happy… Let go of those things you can’t control. Tell the people you love that you love them. Let go of the people who don’t love you – it’s okay. Have more fun. Ask for help when you need it. Stop being afraid. What are you waiting for? Start now.’”
Sarah said that most people who learned she was writing a book after her treatment all wanted to know the same thing. “Are you going to write about cancer?” She considered it, but she found that she couldn’t. “Cancer is too real and too awful, and I can’t make it good, and I can’t make it magical. But after I finished writing Lost Lake, I sat back and I pondered, and I realized that, while I didn’t write about cancer, what I did write about was grief. I wrote about characters who have gone through the worst thing they think they can possibly go through. And they end up on the other side of it in an unfamiliar place, in an unfamiliar life, and yet it’s LIFE. It’s life waiting for them to live it.”
At this point, Sarah read aloud to us the prologue of Lost Lake. I sat back, closed my eyes and listened, and I was captivated completely. I’m in the middle of another book right now, but Sarah’s reading made me want to chuck that book out the window and start Lost Lake immediately. We’ll see how much self-control I can scrape together.
After the reading, there was a quick Q&A, and then Sarah signed books. I’d say around forty people stayed to have their books autographed, and Sarah took her time with each person. My friend Beth and I were two of the last people in line, and when our turn came, I was struck by how gracious and modest Sarah was. She seemed genuinely surprised (and a bit overwhelmed) that anyone would wait an hour and a half just to speak to her. She had a packet of beautiful postcards for each person in the line, and she took the time to personalize her notes in our books and even draw little pictures. It was a great experience, and I feel like I need to say a huge THANK YOU to Sarah and to the great staff at Quail Ridge Books. Sarah is currently working on a sequel to her first novel, Garden Spells, hopefully to be published in 2015. If it works out that way, I hope her book tour will bring her to QRB again!